Archive for February, 2012

Lost* Sayings of My Son, part 2–Scientific Name

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment
* From about June last year.
**This may not be funny unless you know my son’s name.  But even if you do know it it may still not be funny because changing his name as I’m doing here may interrupt the flow of the saying.  Anyway, in order to protect my kid’s anonymity (sort of), let’s pretend his name is Ralph and his middle name is Harold.

My son says to me, “Is that book you’re reading The Grapes of Wrath?”

“How did you know that?”

“Wrath,” he says, “has a silent ‘w.’  Kind of like my scientific name, Ralph, has a silent ‘h’.”

I said, “Ralph is not your scientific name.”

He said, “What is?  Harold?”

Lost* Sayings of my Son, part 1–Superman

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment
They almost were lost, because I wrote them in a memo pocket notebook, but then I switched to a different one and forgot about them.  I think these were from around June or July.

Him: Grammy told me that

Superman was born on the planet


The Liturgical Gag Reflex: It may not be good manners, but it’s better than swallowing poison

February 24, 2012 Leave a comment

The quote from C.F.W. Walther below got me thinking…

Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?

Pastoral experience teaches (me anyway) that people HATE changes in ceremonies as a general rule.  Imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is not a historically Lutheran practice; however, it’s been done at my congregation for around 15, 20 years–maybe longer.  Some of the same people who are skittish about ceremonial that strikes them as “catholic” have no problem with getting ashes smeared on their foreheads.  But overall, I really think their skittishness is a good thing.

Is there a certain narrow-mindedness involved in rejecting a church based on its ceremonies?  Sure.  But it’s not just laypeople that feel this way.  I feel this way too.  When I see an LCMS congregation where the pastor imitates non denominational church ceremonies, I immediately am suspicious.  When on the other hand an LCMS congregation reserves the body and blood in a tabernacle and genuflects or otherwise adores it outside of the celebration of the Sacrament, I also am suspicious.  Or when they start doing Taize.

Is it narrowminded?  Somewhat.  But the reality is most laypeople, and most pastors, for that matter, are not equipped for nuanced theological analysis of what is really being taught at that congregation, nor does anyone have time for it.  Walther noted that a lot of Germans in America managed to avoid the German Methodists and Reformed, even though they didn’t know much theology, because these other churches broke the bread at communion instead of using hosts.

Obviously, you are not automatically a Baptist if you use bread with yeast at Holy Communion, and you’re not automatically a Papist because you think it is appropriate to reserve the body of Christ to take to the sick.  BUT:

do you want to be recognizable as a Lutheran Church to people who want to be Lutherans?  Then you need to consider that when everything you do looks like a non-denominational church, you might offend those who want to be Lutheran and they may have a hard time trusting you.

At the same time, those who want to return to the liturgical richness of an earlier period in Lutheranism should recognize that those folks who understand themselves as “Lutheran” and want to be “Lutheran” are often unaware that making the sign of the cross, incense, etc. is “Lutheran.”  Even if we succeed in teaching these things in our own congregations, shouldn’t we be concerned about the guy from North Dakota who is so freaked out by an LCMS pastor swinging a censer that he leaves and joins an ELCA congregation that conducts a “Lutheran” liturgy–at least one he recognizes as Lutheran?

If people in the US are ever going to become familiar with the Lutheran church, in addition to teaching clearly, it would be beneficial if we had a distinctly Lutheran rite and ceremonial, so that we neither look like we’re aping the nondenom churches nor Rome.

I vote for the historic lectionary and the common service, DS II, and the German Mass.  I think it would be really good too if we were distinguished by singing hymns, which is essentially dying out elsewhere.

By the way, this reminds me: the Northern Illinois District convention is coming up.  At nearly every LCMS convention there’s always some resolution talking about how great it is that we’re all orthodox and we all agree on doctrine so much that we’re the envy of every denomination in the US.  This makes me want to puke, but there’s nothing you can do about it, since they always pass.  Then there’s nearly always a resolution about how “we should trust each other.”

Now because we think that righteousness is pretty much always synonymous with niceness, pretty much everyone agrees that we should “trust one another.”  But much like the resolution that says we all agree on doctrine, resolutions calling for us to “trust one another” are godless resolutions posing as pious ones.

I would agree that the LCMS is often polemical, dysfunctional, etc., and that concern with pure doctrine easily can turn into self-righteousness.  But it’s godless to try to silence complaints by saying, “We’re united, we’re united, do not look at the man behind the curtain.”

  Jesus says, “How can you believe, when you seek the glory that comes from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”  (John 5:44)

Which is exactly what we’re doing–patting ourselves on the back while we tolerate all kinds of things that should not be tolerated.  And for the same reason, I am not supposed to simply “trust you.”  I shouldn’t trust you.  I shouldn’t even trust myself!  Jesus said: “Why do you call me good?  No one is good–except God alone (Mark 10:18).”  Scripture says that human beings “are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit…they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent…foolish, faithless…” (Romans 1:29-31)  “No one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…there is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 1:10-11, 18).  “All mankind are liars.”  (Psalm 116:11)

So I agree that I should deal with you in love, whoever you are.  But trust you?  I trust you even less for putting this resolution forward!  The fact that so many in the Missouri Synod keep talking about how we should trust one another betrays that many do not believe Article II of the Augsburg Confession about original sin.  Should I love you?  Yes.  Should I assume that another pastor means well until I know for certain that he is unrepentant?  Yes.  Should I then “trust” other pastors so that I do not speak out when their practice contradicts God’s Word?

No.  Instead we should pass a resolution that we stop “trusting” one another so much and learn to tell one another the truth in love.

Below is the rest of the quote from Walther and the link to Weedon’s blog.

“The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.””

“We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he. Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world.
“Uniformity of ceremonies (perhaps according to the Saxon Church order published by the Synod, which is the simplest among the many Lutheran church orders) would be highly desirable because of its usefulness. A poor slave of the pope finds one and same form of service, no matter where he goes, by which he at once recognizes his church.
“With us it is different. Whoever comes from Germany without a true understanding of the doctrine often has to look for his church for a long time, and many have already been lost to our church because of this search. How different it would be if the entire Lutheran church had a uniform form of worship! This would, of course, first of all yield only an external advantage, however, one which is by no means unimportant. Has not many a Lutheran already kept his distance from the sects because he saw at the Lord’s Supper they broke the bread instead of distributing wafers?
“The objection: “What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies?” was answered with the counter question, “What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers. They were so far removed from being ashamed of the good ceremonies that they publicly confess in the passage quoted: “It is not true that we do away with all such external ornaments.””

Prayers for Quinquagesima and the First Sunday in Lent

February 24, 2012 3 comments

I have an old prayer book in German that is huge.  I decided to translate it.  I don’t claim to really have any idea how to do that, but I thought it would be a good way to improve in German and possibly find some treasures.

Here are two I did recently:

77. Prayer on Estomihi Sunday (Quinquagesima)

Lord God, heavenly Father, Who graciously opened the eyes of the blind man through Your Son, Jesus Christ, and let the Light be seen, we poor sinners pray You that through Your blessed word, You would enlighten our hearts, that we would learn to know You rightly through Christ, Your Son, Who died for us on the cross and paid for our sins.  Grant us in all affliction and need to look only to Your gracious assistance and mercy, to seek the same through believing prayer, and to find comfort and deliverance against the devil, sin, and death, that we may be numbered among the blessed.  Amen.

78. Prayer on the First Sunday in Lent

Lord God, heavenly Father!  Because the old evil foe, our bitter enemy, constantly prowls and creeps after us, going around like a roaring lion looking for opportunity to devour us, we pray You: for the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, be pleased to strengthen our hearts through Your Word, so that the adversary does not subjugate us, but we remain continually in Your grace until we are among those who are blessed forever.  Amen.

The book is called “Evangelisch-Lutherischer Gebets-Schatz” which was published by Concordia in 1899.  (Thus it’s public domain).  But it seems to have originally been put together in 1864.  It seems to have taken prayers from “great men” of Lutheran Orthodoxy, such as Johann Habermann (who has a famous prayer book already translated), Arndt, Bugenhagen, Gerhard, heermann, Loescher, Luther, Mathesius, Olearius, and several old hymnals.  These two prayers come from Johann Eichhorn, who was apparently a student of Melancthon’s who was a professor of mathematics.  Also, apparently, later he was a follower of Osiander.  Nonetheless, the Missouri Synod considered his prayers orthodox, since nearly all of the prayers for the sundays of the church year have his name next to them.

I’ll post more of these as I do them, and I’d welcome comments from those who are actually proficient in German to correct glaring errors.

1st Sunday after Epiphany–Christian Families (for Sandy Aff., who asked for this a month ago)

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

1st Sunday after Epiphany

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 2:41-52

January 8, 2011


Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

As we look at the world today, how many adults can be happy about what is happening to children?  We live in a time of school shootings, a world in which kids are overexposed to sex at a tender age, a world in which respect for elders and authorities is nearly gone.  None of our grandparents or great grandparents could have imagined the kind of world in which our children are to grow up.


Even though this is true, it is also as old a fact as the Bible—even older—that young people wander.  Job offered sacrifices for his children every day because he feared that they might curse God in their hearts as they spent day after day partying and feasting.  Back when this church started the old Germans had some sayings about this: “Youth has no virtue,” they said, “Youth must spend their rage.”  Even King David, who was a devout child, who by faith in God slew bears and lions and Goliath, prayed in Psalm 25 “Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my rebellious ways; according to your mercy remember me…”


When we look at you who are young among us and remember our own rebellious ways, we tend to deal with it in two ways.  One is to moan and wring our hands over the great temptations the youth face and over the decline in parenting which leaves our youth unprotected.  The other is to say, “Youth always wander, and things are probably not much worse than they ever have been.  It’s better not to be too hard on kids.  When they’re older, they’ll come back to the Lord.”


Both of these ways of coping contain parts of the truth, but neither of them are adequate.  It is true that children have always wandered, but leniency will not save our children.  It is also true that children are called to walk in the way of the Lord even in their childhood; but even better parenting and more instruction in the word of God will not prevent many children from wandering into the ways of sin and death.


Jesus Christ alone, whose holy youth is for us, delivers parents and youth from the ungodliness of our time and rescues lost children.


The first thing we need to take to heart is that baptized children are disciples of Jesus.  At the baptism of our children, it is not the parents or the sponsors or the church that are asked, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works and all his ways?”  It is the child who is asked.  My mother cannot renounce the devil for me, and my father can’t believe that Christ is my Savior for me.   And my parents can’t live a Christian life for me either.


Children are called by Jesus to be His disciples and to live in His kingdom.  The kingdom of God belongs to such as these—to little children.  But this doesn’t mean that adults should act like children.  It means that both adults and children should live by faith in Jesus’ righteousness alone, and daily go do what they are called to do, relying on Jesus’ strength to do what they are called to do, and relying on His death to cover their sins and weaknesses.


Our children are disciples of Jesus.  Just as adult disciples of Jesus regularly need to hear the word of their shepherd, so do our children.  That includes Sunday School; it also includes hearing and learning the word of God and the catechism in the home, and it also includes participation in the Divine Service, when all of God’s people are gathered to hear the preaching of His Word.  Our children belong in the Divine Service just as much as the adults.  The worship of the church is not only for those old enough to understand everything that is being sung and said.  If that were the case, none of us should go to church, because no one understands fully the mystery of worship—that Christ is present with us, and we are present with the whole heavenly host around the throne of grace.


This is the primary duty of parents for their children—not to teach them how to have a happy life on earth, but to teach them the way of eternal life.  Now the way of eternal life is, as you know, through faith in Jesus alone, who paid for our sins on the cross.  But faith in Jesus always takes root in the good soil of a repentant heart, and that means that parents are to teach their children the commandments of God so that they may not only know what is good and right to do, but so that they may see their sin and helplessness and gladly hear the good news of the forgiveness of sins through Jesus’ suffering and death.  And Christian faith always shows itself in good works.  This means that parents are commanded by God to discipline and teach their children to live according to the commandments.  God calls us not simply to discipline our children so that they fear the punishment of parents and earthly authorities, but to teach our children to fear God’s wrath and desire His pleasure.  He wants us to teach our children to trust God, call on His name, and gladly hear His Word.  He tells us to teach our children to love their neighbor—honoring those in authority, protecting the lives and property of their neighbors, living in purity, speaking well of their neighbors.


And young people need to learn that they don’t get a holiday from being a Christian until they are older.  The time when Jesus says, “Come, follow me,” is today—and He calls all of us—80 year olds, 30 year olds, 15 year olds, and five year olds.


Look at 12 year old Jesus.  Where was he when he was 12 years old?  In Jerusalem, at the feast of the Passover.  Was he complaining that his parents were dragging him to church?  No, in fact, He was so glad to be in God’s house that he stayed three extra days to learn God’s Word.  He had to be about His heavenly Father’s business even as a 12 year old.  Then, when His parents found Him, He went home and was obedient to them, and we hear nothing else about what Jesus did in His youth until the time His ministry began.


Was Jesus so holy just because He was God?  Yes, the fact that He was born without sin made Him able to keep the law.  But the reason He spent His youth serving God is that this is what you and me were created to do from the time we are infants.  And we will be held accountable for the transgressions of God’s law we have committed from the time of our youngest childhood to the end of our lives.


There is no real happiness or joy to be found in serving ourselves instead of serving God.  We were created to serve God.  If we want joy, and if we want our children, grandchildren, and our younger brothers and sisters in Christ to have joy, then there is one way only—to live as servants of God, to follow Christ!


Our kids need much more than they are receiving if they are to have joy.  Our forefathers in the faith understood this, which is why they instituted Christian schools to make sure children were well instructed.  But it is not enough simply to have a school, or simply to take our kids to Sunday School and church.  We must ensure that in church, Sunday School, and Christian day school, that God’s pure word is taught.  And then the daily lives of pastor, teachers, and parents must picture the new life in Christ.  When our children leave the walls of the church, they are thrown into an environment in which they are constantly bombarded with bad examples, bad morality, and anti-Christian teaching.  It takes more than simply exposing your children to a little bit of the bible for them to live holy lives in Christ.  They need regular feeding with God’s word, constant modeling of what it means to turn away from the lusts of the flesh to the treasure of the kingdom of God.  They need adults to set an example of hungering and thirsting for God’s Word and disciplining themselves so that they will not be tangled up in sin.  If you don’t set limits for your children regarding what media they take in, what they do with the computer and the cell phone, when and where they are allowed to spend time with members of the opposite sex, they will get their information from a world that is simply not concerned with living a holy life and has no fear of God’s wrath.


But it is also true that children will wander no matter how well they are taught and no matter how well the Christian life is modeled.  Oftentimes, when there are good boundaries in place, the sinful flesh of children will not wander openly into drugs and partying, sex, laziness, departing from the church—because it costs them too much to do so in their parents’ home.  But even when people are outwardly good, the heart still wanders.  Even if we manage to keep our children moral on the outside—and this is no small task in a world in which most limits are gone—apart from the Holy Spirit the human heart will run into the secret sins of self-righteousness and self-trust.  How hard it is for a kid who has not plunged into the immorality that characterizes our time to trust in his own morality instead of the blood of Jesus that takes away the sins of the world!


There is only One who not only makes us outwardly holy and obedient, but begins to cleanse our disobedient hearts from within, and it is to Him alone that all in the church must look for deliverance from the wickedness of our flesh and for forgiveness from the sins of our youth.


It is Jesus, who from His childhood kept the law of God.  He did it so that His holy childhood and obedience would stand in for our birth in sin and the evil fruit that follows our sinful conception.  Every human being except Him, no matter how well they lived as children, grows out of an unclean root.  We proceed from Adam, our first father, who turned away from God to become his own god and trust in himself.  Then after his repentance he saw the fruit of his sin.  His children grew up.  One of them mourned his sin, and the other was convinced of his own righteousness—and that self-trust led him to offer a sacrifice which he though God should accept on its own merits, without mercy.  When God rejected his offering, he killed his brother, whose repentant offering pleased God.


Jesus is not like Cain.  He truly was and is righteous.  From His birth there was no stain of sin in Him.  He had to be about His father’s business even at 12 years old.  But His spotless life did not make Him self-righteous; it did not make Him exalt Himself over His brothers.  When Jesus obeyed the law of God, He did so in love.  Love is the fulfillment of the law—not merely that we don’t kill, don’t gossip, don’t ignore God’s Word, but that we love God and we love our neighbor.  And so Jesus “grew in stature and in favor with God and men.”  People perceived that Jesus did not think he was better than everyone else.


No, in fact, Jesus’ holy childhood was not for Himself at all.  By being born of a woman and submitting to His parents, Jesus was fulfilling the law for us.  We have transgressed God’s law from our childhood.  But Jesus’ obedience to the law, His service to God, was for us, so that when we consider all the sins of our youth, all our rebellion, we may not despair, but say instead, “the holy obedience of Jesus is for me, so that I may stand in it and wear it before the throne of judgment.”


As parents and children, and as members of the church who look with concern at younger families struggling to live as Christians in a world that no longer pretends to be Christian, we must learn and teach the ten commandments.  The commandments of God need to be held before our eyes so that we see what a holy life looks like, so that we know what pleases God, and so that we see how our disobedience has provoked God’s anger.


But a holy life cannot come as a result only of teaching the law.  The law’s main purpose is to point to Jesus, who fulfilled it even as a child.  Children should imitate Jesus’ humble obedience to His human parents, even though He was their God; His desire to serve His father even as a youth, His hunger for God’s Word.  Parents should copy the faithfulness of Mary and Joseph in bringing the child Jesus to the services of God’s house.


But when it comes to the question: “Can I dwell in the house of the Lord?  Can I with good conscience go into the Father’s presence—whether to pray, in this life, or to live forever in the life to come?”—that question’s answer is “Yes!”  How can we say this confident yes?  Because we do not rely on our own faithfulness, but on the faithful and spotless life of the Lord Jesus, who from childhood sought to do the will of His father in heaven.  In his youth, that obedience meant meditating on God’s Word so that He was even able to teach the high priests and scribes, and it meant obedience to His earthly parents who were His creatures and those He had come to save.  In His manhood, His obedience meant making His righteous life serve sinners, by giving it as a ransom which turned away the Father’s wrath from us.


As we go forward, we have good reason to tremble as we consider the great temptations faced by our youth.  Young people should see how many temptations face them and how weak they are.  Unlike Jesus it is not their nature to spend three days in God’s house learning His Word, nor to be obedient to their parents.


And adults—parents and those who are no longer parents but nevertheless are concerned for their spiritual nieces and nephews in the youth of the church—we all have reason to tremble as we consider how little we know how to instruct the youth in the way of the Lord.  The truth is that almost all of us have misspent our youth.  And even those who lived an outwardly righteous life should know that their hearts were wayward, even if they didn’t manifest that waywardness in rebellion against God and parents, or an immoral life.


Yes, we do not have what it takes to turn back the tide.  But if we recognize that, we are blessed.  We don’t have what it takes to raise our children in righteousness—or even to live as we ought to ourselves.  But the child Jesus who was righteous from youth does.  His righteous childhood and adulthood is our righteousness before God.  And so we go to Him with empty hearts, asking Him to start us over again—to make us newborn children in His kingdom who live by faith in Him alone and who learn from Him how to fulfill our callings.  All righteousness is in Him—and we are in Him, baptized and born again.  May He then fill our emptiness and teach us so that we may learn to be about the Father’s business with the time that remains for this life.


The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.



Categories: Sermons

“We are all beggars. This is true.”

February 21, 2012 Leave a comment

Quinquagesima Sunday

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. Luke 18:31-43

February 19, 2012

“We are all beggars.  This is true.”

Dear Christians:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.


Jesus is the Savior of the desperate.  This is a fact that has long been noted by mockers of Christianity and by genteel church members who apply the saying: “All things in moderation” to religion as much as to martinis.  In the first or second century someone vandalized a wall in Italy by drawing a picture of a crucified man with a donkey’s head and writing, “Alexamenos worships his god.”  The mockery of the strange religion of the Christians didn’t stop with the disappearance of paganism.  When Jeffrey Dahmer went to prison and then confessed faith in Christ, people mocked.  When Mel Gibson started drinking again after making “The Passion of the Christ,” all over television people smirked.  Really, who besides a fool or a desperate case would worship a God who was mocked and spit on and nailed to a pole to die?


Another famous person whose popularity took a beating when he started singing about Jesus on his records was Bob Dylan.  There was a song by him that used to be played regularly on oldies stations called “Like a Rolling Stone;” of course, it wasn’t really that old a song since it was recorded in the 60’s.  I always thought it was about a hip, upper class young woman ending up homeless.  There was a line in the song that went:


You used to be so amused

at Napoleon in rags and the language that he used

go to him now, he calls you, you can’t refuse

when you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose

You’re invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel?


When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose.  When you get down that low, you become invisible to the rest of the world.  The people whose worlds haven’t fallen apart walk by and don’t see you.  They can’t see you.  If they saw you it would destroy the illusion that what has happened to you will never happen to them.  They can’t afford to see you.


And so when you have nothing—when you’re desperate, you take help where you can get it.  From a guy on the street who thinks he’s Napoleon; from a dumpster outside of a fast food restaurant.  And many desperate people turn to Jesus—Jesus the man of sorrows, the meek and lowly, the healer of the sick and blind and lame, the Son of God who associated with thieves and prostitutes.


Desperate people can see Jesus.  Healthy, well-adjusted, strong, spiritual people?  The more a person thinks he is those things, the less he can see Jesus.


Jesus is among the invisible people.  He’s in the places they know well.  He’s at the Jordan River being baptized with those who think the day of the Lord is at hand and who are desperate for forgiveness because they are sinners.  He’s in the water with them while the Pharisees stand on the riverbank and watch.  He’s at the grave crying where His friend is buried.  He’s with the lepers; or at a party with crooks—at least, people who were crooks a few days ago.  He’s swinging a whip in a rage at hypocritical, useless religion, calling its adherents children of the devil and its teachers blind guides and snakes.  He’s in jail.  He’s at the place of execution.


He has a soft spot, it seems, for people so desperate they can’t or won’t keep up appearances, like the lady who cries on his feet and dries them with her hair, or the women bringing their babies to Him so He can lay his hands on them and bless them—as though He has nothing better to do.  Or laughing-stock Zacchaeus, climbing up a tree to get a glimpse of him, or this blind man who makes a scene at his royal parade to Jerusalem, screaming—it appears to the crowd, probably—for Jesus to put some money in his tin cup—“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  “Oh, dear Jesus, have mercy on me” the man yells at the top of his lungs, like some crazy, dirty street person interrupting a church service with no sense of what’s in place and what isn’t.


What is it that makes the blind beggar do this?  He wants help from Jesus so badly that he can’t save face.  Jesus is passing by now.  It may be that Jesus has to go to Jerusalem to become king and it’s rude and arrogant for him to interrupt, but this is his only chance.  And even though the people around him think he’s arrogant to think that the Messiah has time for him on his way to Zion, this blind man sees Jesus.  He sees Jesus by faith.  He believes that Jesus has time for him.  He believes that Jesus can help him, because He is the Son of God, and he believes that Jesus will have mercy on him, because that is why Jesus has come—to help the helpless, to show mercy and lift up all who are bowed down.


He does not let the rebukes contradict the Gospel that he has heard—that Jesus always helps the helpless, that He does not cast the needy away.  When they tell him to be silent he yells even louder: “Son of David, have mercy on me!”


It takes a desperate man to interrupt the Messiah’s ride to His throne.  But this man does it, believing Jesus will show him mercy.  And what he believes is right—Jesus does have time for him.  Jesus is here for him.  He will stop his royal procession just to show mercy to this one blind man outside of Jericho.


Not that Jesus wasn’t there for all the other people too.  But not everyone—not most of the crowds—understood or were willing to believe that Jesus was on earth for them, that He is so compassionate that He would stop His journey to His throne just to heal them.


But that is how Jesus is.  He is wholly and completely and utterly for you.  He is the Son of Man—the Son of God who chose to empty Himself of the perfect pleasure and power and splendor that He had as the only begotten Son of God.  He left that behind to become the son of Adam and to become weak and subject to pain and weakness and temptation, in every way just as we experience it.  He laid aside the glory of heaven to become subject to the law and sin and the wrath of God against sinners.


How great is Jesus’ love, that God would make Himself subject to our emptiness to give us His fullness?  How great is God’s love, that He would suffer the damnation we deserve at His hand?  It is love that seems like foolishness and nonsense to us unless we think with the mind of Christ.


And how great is our blindness and sickness, that God could show such love, and we remain so cold to it!  Why is that?


Jesus could not have used any clearer words with His disciples.  As they travelled, Jesus pulled them aside and spoke plainly with them.  “Look, we’re going to Jerusalem—and although this whole crowd believes that I will take my place on David’s throne, throw out the Romans, and begin to rule the whole earth—that’s not going to happen.  The Scriptures are going to be fulfilled instead.  The Son of Man will be handed over to the Gentiles, and they will mock him, treat him disgracefully, spit on him, flog him, and kill him.  And on the third day He will rise.”


But they stared at Jesus blankly.  “What is he talking about?”  The disciples were not desperate.  They were like men who won the lottery but haven’t gotten the check yet, but can’t stop thinking about what they’re going to buy first as soon as they do.  In Matthew and Mark, Jesus has just dealt with a conflict among them that started because James and John tried to cut a secret deal to be his second and third in command.


All our lives most of us try to make it work.  We try to become successes—at our businesses or careers, at love or marriage.  We become disciples of Jesus, and then we want to be spiritual successes, and we either become content or we deceive ourselves into thinking that we’ve climbed pretty high on the ladder of ascent to God.  We remain blissfully ignorant of how empty and pitiful we are—how desperate for God’s grace, or we convince ourselves that our efforts to do God’s will have helped us progress past the state we may have been in once—where we were poor, helpless beggars, blind and utterly dependent on God’s grace to forgive our sins, snatch us out of the fires of hell, lead us on the right road, and keep us from wandering blindly off the path every few minutes.


And as we become content or satisfied, we begin to stare blankly at Jesus when He tells us what the Scriptures are all about.  We become like the church He rebukes in the Book of Revelation: “You say, I am rich!  I am in need of nothing!  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me salve for your eyes, so you can see, and robes to cover your shameful nakedness…” (Revelation 3)  Or like another church in the same book, “I have this against you—you have forsaken your first love.  Repent, and do the works you did at first, or I will come and take your lampstand away from its place.”  (Revelation 2)


Lent is the time for your eyes to be opened, for you to return to your first love, for you to be reborn.  In ancient times, it was the time when catechumens prepared for Baptism on Easter; it was when penitents who had been excommunicated were restored; and it was the time for the faithful to repent of spiritual pride, of coldness in love for Christ, so that all together might celebrate the resurrection of Jesus as newborn babies, fresh from the cleansing floodwaters of Baptism.  Repentance is returning to Baptism, where you died with Christ and were resurrected a new man and a new creation.


That means remembering what we are.  We are not going to Jerusalem to sit on thrones.  We are not spiritual success stories going to Jerusalem to become conquering heroes.  We don ‘t have that in us.  Our victories are won when we become weak, blind, beggars, when our pride is stripped and we no longer reject the deep love of Christ which is seeking us, waiting to find entry when in desperation we cry, “Lord, have mercy on me!  I am not what I should be and I cannot change myself!”


A pitiful blind man who says, “Jesus is passing by; I can’t let him go by, even if He is on the way to being anointed King.  He will help me; He will stop for me!”  That man can see Jesus.  He will not turn away from Jesus when He is drenched in bloody sweat, when His skin is torn by whips, His face bruised by fists and spat upon, when His hands and feet are nailed to a pole and He is lifted up from the earth.  He will not turn away from what it means for us to say, “I, a poor miserable sinner…”  A person who is so desperate that he is willing to be a fool if that is what it takes to come near to Jesus—that person will be able to see Jesus.  Because we really are that desperately needy for His salvation, pardon, and comfort; for His Spirit, for deliverance from the power of sin.  And even greater than our desperate need is His desire for us to be His own and live forever.  His love made Him willing to be worse than a fool and a clown; it made Him willing to put Himself under the wrath of God and to become sin and a curse for us.


On February 18, 1546, Martin Luther died while visiting his hometown.  They found in his pocket a little note he had scribbled in his last hours, which read, “Wir sind alle bettler.  Hoc est verum.”  “We are all beggars.  That is true.”  However things are going now, and whatever good works we have done—including reforming the church—we are all penniless beggars before God.  He must give us His righteousness, and He must work faith in our hearts, or we are damned.  As this Lent begins, may Christ make us beggars who do not turn away from His agonies, but with terror and joy say, “My sins cost Jesus the pains of the cross and God’s wrath, but His deep love drove Him to pay that price to redeem me.”  May He make us those who have nothing—beggars—and so those who have nothing to lose and no secrets to conceal, so that the sins that hide unexposed in our hearts may be brought into the light and destroyed by His absolution, and so that our wounded consciences and hearts may be healed through His body and blood.


The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


Categories: Luther, Sermons

Luther’s Preface to the Old Testament from his German Bible

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m posting this for anyone who may see it from St. Peter or my acquaintance who may be interested in reading what Luther said about the Old Testament–as we continue to inch along through Genesis in bible class–or who generally may have questions about how Christians should understand the Old Testament and its application to us now.

In my opinion, every Christian, whether or not they agree with Luther, benefits from reading him, in the same way that every Christian benefits from reading St. Augustine or Gregory the Great or Thomas Aquinas or Calvin.  You may not agree with him, but particularly protestants of all varieties can only benefit by refamiliarizing themselves with one of their theological fathers.

This translation is public domain.  At least, I sincerely hope it is.


Luther’s work on the translation of the Bible into German extended over many years. His translation of the New Testament was begun in 1521, during his residence at the Wartburg; it was published in September, 1522.

Before the New Testament came off the press, he was already at work upon the Old Testament. November 2, 1522, he wrote to Spalatin, “In translating the Old Testament, I am only at Leviticus…I have decided to shut myself up at home and hasten the work, so that Moses may be in press by January. We shall publish this separately, then the historical books, and finally the prophets, for the size and cost of the books make it necessary for us to divide them and publish them a little at a time.”

This is the procedure that was actually followed. The first part of the Old Testament, the Pentateuch, was published in 1523. It was followed closely by the second part, which contained the remainder of the historical books, and which was completed before December 4th . At that time he was at work on the third part. This section, which comprised Job, the Psalter, and the Books of Solomon, appeared in 1524. The work on the prophetical books proceeded very slowly. It was not completed until 1532, though single books were published separately before that time, — Isaiah in 1528, Daniel in 1530. After the publication of the prophets, all the books were collected into one volume, and Luther’s complete Bible appeared in 1534.

Meanwhile, Luther was continually revising the work that was already in print. The second edition of the New Testament, issued three months after the first (December, 1522) contained many alterations in the text, as did the second edition of the Psalter in 1531. In this work of revision, as in the original translation, Luther had the assistance of his Wittenberg colleagues, — Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, Jonas, Cruciger, Aurogallus, and George Roerer. Luther called them his Sanhedrim. Their weekly meetings discussed the passages that seemed to need correction or amendment. The changes which Luther approved were incorporated in the editions after 1534. The most important of these was that of 1541. The last edition which Luther himself supervised appeared in 1545.

As an aid to the understanding of his Bible, Luther provided most of the books with prefaces. In most cases they were very brief and consisted of little more than summaries of contents; in a few instances they were more extensive, and discussed questions of the nature of the books, of date, authorship, and doctrine. Because of the importance of some of these prefaces, it has seemed wise to include all of them in this edition, with the exception of those to the Apocrypha, which are interesting, but not especially important.

Literature. There is a large literature on Luther’s Bible translation. The best summary of it is that of Nestle, in the Realencyk 3:70 ff. In the Weimar Ed. there have been published, to date, five volumes of Luther’s Bible, four of which deal with the German Bible. There are extensive bibliographies. The work is, however, not yet complete.

The prefaces are collected in Erlangen Ed. 63:7 ff., and St. Louis Ed. 14:2 ff.




There are some who have a small opinion of the Old Testament, thinking of it as a book that was given to the Jewish people only, and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times. They think that they have enough in the New Testament and pretend to seek in the Old Testament only a spiritual sense. Origen, Jerome, and many persons of high standing have held this view, but Christ says, “Search in the Scriptures, for they give testimony of me,” and St. Paul bids Timothy continue in the reading of the Scriptures, and declares, in Romans 1:2, that the Gospel was promised by God in the Scriptures, and in 1 Corinthians 15:3, he says that Christ came of the seed of David, died, and rose from the dead, according to the Scriptures; and St. Peter, too, points us back, more than once, to the Scriptures.

They do this in order to teach us that the Scriptures of the Old Testament are not to be despised, but to be read, because they themselves base the New Testament upon them, and prove it by them, and appeal to them, as St. Luke writes, in Acts 17:11, saying that they at Thessalonica searched the Scriptures daily to discover whether it agreed with what Paul taught. The ground and proof of the New Testament are surely not to be despised, and therefore the Old Testament is to be highly regarded. And what is the New Testament except an open preaching and proclamation of Christ, appointed by the sayings of the Old Testament and fulfilled by Christ?

But in order that those who know no better may have incentive and instruction for reading the Old Testament, I have prepared this introduction, with whatever ability God has given me. I beg and faithfully warn every pious Christian not to stumble at the simplicity of the language and the stories that will often meet him there. He should not doubt that however simple they may seem, these are the very words, works, judgments, and deeds of the high majesty, power, and wisdom of God; for this is Scripture, and it makes fools of all the wise and prudent, and stands open to the small and foolish, as Christ says, in Matthew 11:25.

Therefore let your own thoughts and feelings go, and think of the Scriptures as the loftiest and noblest of holy things, as the richest of mines, which can never be worked out, so that you may find the wisdom of God that He lays before you in such foolish and simple guise, in order that He may quench all pride. Here you will find the swaddling-clothes and the mangers in which Christ lies, and to which the angel points the shepherds.

Simple and little are the swaddling-clothes, but dear is the treasure, Christ, that lies in them.

Know, then, that the Old Testament is a book of laws, which teaches what men are to do and not to do, and gives, besides, examples and stories of how these laws are kept or broken; just as the New Testament is a Gospel-book, or book of grace, and teaches where one is to get the power to fulfill the law. But in the New Testament there are given, along with the teaching about grace, many other teachings that are laws and commandments for the ruling of the flesh, since in this life the spirit is not perfected and grace alone cannot rule. Just so in the Old Testament there are, beside the laws, certain promises and offers of grace, by which the holy fathers and prophets, under the law, were kept, like us, under the faith of Christ.

Nevertheless, just as the peculiar and chief teaching of the New Testament is the proclamation of grace and peace in Christ, through the forgiveness of sins; so the peculiar and chief teaching of the Old Testament is the teaching of laws, the showing of sin, and the furtherance of good. Know that this is what you have to expect in the Old Testament.

We come, first, to the books of Moses; he teaches in his first book how all creatures were made, and (as the chief cause for his writing) whence sin came, and death, namely, by Adam’s fall, from the devil’s wickedness. But immediately thereafter, before Moses gets to the law, he teaches whence the help is to come, by which sin and death are to be driven out; namely, not by the law or men’s own works (since there was no law as yet), but by “the seed of the woman,” Christ, promised to Adam and Abraham. Thus from the beginning of the Scriptures, and throughout them all, faith is praised above all works and laws and merits. The first book of Moses, therefore, is made up almost entirely of illustrations of faith and unbelief, and the fruits that faith and unbelief bear, and is almost a Gospel-book.

Afterward, in the second book, when the world was now: full, and was sunk in blindness, so that men scarcely knew any longer what sin was or where death came from, God brings Moses forward with the law and takes up a special people, in order to enlighten the world again by them, and by the law to reveal sin anew. Thus He organizes this people with all kinds of laws, and separates it from all other peoples, has them build a tabernacle and begins a form of worship, appoints princes and officers, and provides His people splendidly with both laws and men, to rule them in the body before the world, and in the spirit before God.

The special topic of the third book is the appointment of the priesthood, with the statutes and laws according to which the priests are to act in teaching the people. There we see that a priestly office is instituted only because of sin, to proclaim sin to the people and make atonement before God. Thus all of its work is to deal with sin and sinners. Therefore no temporal wealth is given to the priests and they are neither commanded nor permitted to rule men’s bodies, but the only work that is assigned them is to care for the people who are in sin.

In the fourth book, after the laws have been given, the princes and priests instituted, the tabernacle and the form of worship set up, and everything that pertains to a people of God made ready, then the work and the practice of all this begins, and a test is made of the way that such an order of things will go and what will happen under it. That is why this book says so much about the disobedience of the people and the plagues that came upon them, and some of the laws are interpreted and the number of the laws is increased. For that is the way it always goes; laws are quickly given, but when they are to go into effect and be enforced, they meet with nothing but hindrance, and nothing will go as the law demands. This book is a notable example of how there is nothing at all in making people righteous with laws, but, as St. Paul says, laws cause only sin and wrath.

In the fifth book, after the people have keen punished because of their sins, and God has enticed them a little with grace, in order that by His kindness in giving them the two kingdoms they might be moved to keep His law with pleasure and love, — then Moses repeats the whole law, with the story of all that has happened to them (except what concerns the priesthood), and explains anew everything that belongs either to the bodily or to the spiritual government of a people. Thus Moses, as a perfect lawgiver, fulfilled all the duties of his office; he not only gave the law, but was there when men were to fulfill it, and when things went wrong, he explained it and re-established it. But this explanation in the fifth book really contains nothing else than faith toward God and love to one’s neighbor; for all God’s laws come to that. Therefore, down to the twentieth chapter, Moses, in his explanation of the law, guards against everything that may destroy faith in God, and from there to the end of the book, against everything that hinders love.

It is to be observed, in the first place, that Moses provides so exactly for the organization of the people under laws as to leave human reason no room to choose a single work of its own, or to invent its own form of worship; for he not only teaches fear, love, and trust toward God, but also provides so many ways of outward worship, — sacrifices, thanksgivings, fasts, mortifications, etc., — that no one needs to choose anything else.

Moreover he gives instructions for planting and tilling and marrying and fighting and ruling children, servants, and households, buying and selling, borrowing and repaying, and everything that one can do, either outwardly or inwardly. It goes so far that some of the prescriptions are to be regarded as foolish and useless.

Why, dear sir, does God do that? In the end, because He has taken this people to be His own and has willed to be their God; therefore He would so rule them that all their doings may surely be right in His eyes. For if anyone does anything for which God’s Word has not first given warrant, it counts for nothing before God and is labor lost, for in the Fifth Book in Deuteronomy 4:2 and Deuteronomy 12:32, He forbids any addition to His laws, and in Deuteronomy 12:8 He says that they shall not do what seems to them right. The Psalter, too, and all the prophets lament that the people are doing good works that they themselves have chosen and that were not commanded by God. He cannot and will not suffer those who are His to undertake to do anything that He has not commanded, no matter how good it may be; for obedience, which depends on God’s Word, is of all works the noblest and best.

Since this life, however, cannot be without external forms of worship, He put before them all these forms and included them in His commandment, so that if they must or would do God any outward service, they might take one of these, and not some form of service that they themselves had invented. So they could be sure and certain that their work was done in obedience to God and His Word. Thus they are prevented on every hand from following their own reason and free will, in doing good and living aright; and yet room, place, time, person, work, and form are so determined and prescribed, that they cannot complain that they must follow the example of alien worship.

In the second place, it is to be noted that the laws are of three kinds. Some speak only of temporal things, as do our imperial laws. These are established by God chiefly because of the wicked, that they may not do worse things. Such laws are for prevention rather than for instruction; f414 as when Moses commands to dismiss a wife with a letter of separation, or that a husband shall bring an “offering of jealousy” for his wife, and may take other wives besides.

All these are temporal laws. — There are some, however, that teach the external worship of God, as was said above.

Over and above these are the laws about faith and love, so that all other laws must and ought to be measured by the laws of faith and love; that is to say, they are to be kept where their observance does not conflict with faith and love; but where they conflict with faith and love, they are entirely void.

Therefore we read that David did not kill the murderer Joab, though he had twice deserved death; and in 2 Samuel 14:11 he promises the woman of Tekoa that her son shall not die, though he has slain his brother; Absalom, too, he did not kill. Moreover, David himself ate of the holy bread of the priests, and Tamar thought the king might give her in marriage to her stepbrother, Amnon. From these and similar stories one sees plainly that the kings, priests, and heads of the people often transgressed the laws boldly, at the demand of faith and love, and therefore that faith and love are always to be mistresses of the law and to have all laws in their power. For since all laws aim at faith and love, none of them can be valid, or be a law, if it conflicts with faith and love.

Even to the present day, then, the Jews are greatly in error when they hold so strictly and so hard to some of the laws of Moses. They would rather let love and peace be destroyed than eat or drink with us, or do things of that kind. They do not see the real meaning of the law. This understanding of it is necessary to all who live under laws, and not to the Jews only; for Christ says, in Matthew 12:11, that one might break the Sabbath if an ox had fallen into a pit, and might help it out, though that would be only a temporal necessity and a temporal injury; how much more then ought one boldly break all kinds of laws when bodily necessity demands it, provided nothing is done against faith and love, as Christ says that David did when he ate the holy bread.

But why does Moses mix up his laws in such a disorderly way? Why does he not put the temporal laws together in one group and the spiritual in another, and the laws of faith and love in still another? Moreover, he sometimes repeats a law so often and uses certain words so many times that it becomes tedious to read it or listen to it. The answer is that Moses writes as the case demands, so that his book is a picture and illustration of government and life. For this is what happens when things are moving, — now this work has to be done and now that, and no man can so arrange his life (if he is to act in a godly way) that this day he uses only spiritual laws and that day only temporal, but God disposes the laws as He sets the stars in the heavens and the flowers in the fields, and a man must be ready every hour for anything, and do the first thing that comes to his hand. The books of Moses are mixed up just this way.

That he is so insistent and often repeats the same thing shows the nature of his office; for one who is to rule a people with laws must always hold on, always insist, and be patient with the people, as with asses. No work of law is done with pleasure and love; it is all forced and compelled. Since Moses, then, is a lawgiver, he has to show by his insistence that the work of the law is a forced work, and has to make the people weary, until, through this insistence, they recognize their illness and their dislike for God’s Law, and long for grace, as appears below.

In the third place, Moses’ true intention is to reveal sin, and put to shame all the presumption of human ability; therefore St. Paul calls him in Galatians 2 and 3, “a minister of sin,” and his office “an office of death;” and in Romans 3 and Romans 7:7, he says, “By the law cometh only the knowledge of sin,” and “by the works of the law no one becomes righteous before God. For by the law Moses can do. no more than tell what men ought to do and not to do; but power, and ability to do it and not to do it he does not give, and so he lets us stick in sin. If we, then, stick in sin, death presses instantly upon us as vengeance, and punishment for sin.

Therefore Paul calls sin “the sting of death,” because it is by sin that death has all its right and power over us. But if it were not for the law, there would be no sin; therefore it is all the fault of Moses, who, by the law, stirs up and censures sin, and then upon sin death follows, with its power, so that Moses’ office is rightly called by St. Paul an office of sin and death; for by his law-giving he brings nothing upon us but sin and death.

Nevertheless, this office of sin and death is good and very necessary; for where God’s law is not, there human reason is so blind that it cannot recognize sin. Human reason does not know that unbelief and despair of God is sin; nay, it knows nothing about man’s duty to believe God and trust Him; thus it goes on, hardened in its blindness, and feels this sin not at all, doing meanwhile some works that would otherwise be good and leading an outwardly honorable life. Then it thinks it stands well, and enough has been done in this matter. We see this in the heathen and the hypocrites, when their life is at its best. Besides, the reason does not know that the wicked inclination of the flesh and hatred against enemies are sin, but because it feels that all men are so inclined, it holds that these things are natural and right and thinks it enough to guard against outward wrongdoing.

Thus it goes on and regards its illness as strength, its sin as right, its bad as good, and can make no progress.

See, then! To drive away this blindness and hardened presumption, Moses’ office is necessary. Now he cannot drive them away, unless he reveals them, and makes them known. He does this by the law, when he teaches that men ought to fear, trust, believe, and love God; and ought to have beside no evil desire or hatred for any man. When Nature, then, hears this aright, it must be frightened, for it certainly finds neither trust nor faith, neither fear nor love to God, and neither love nor purity toward one’s neighbor, but only unbelief, doubt, contempt and hatred to God, and only evil will and desire toward one’s neighbor. But where it finds this, death is instantly before its eyes, ready to devour such a sinner and swallow him up in hell.

See, that is what is meant by bringing death upon us by sin and killing us by sin, that is, stirring up sin by the law, and setting it before our eyes, and driving all our presumption into despondency and trembling and despair, so that a man can do no more than cry, with the prophet, “I am rejected by God,” or, as we say in German, “I am the devil’s; I can never be saved.”

That is what St. Paul means by those short words in 1 Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin,’ but the strength of sin is the law.” It is as if he were saying, “Death stings and slays us, because of the sin that is found in us and makes us guilty of death; but sin is found in us and gives us so mightily to death, because of the law, which reveals sin to us and teaches us to recognize it; we did not know it before, and therefore felt secure.”

Now see with what power Moses conducts and performs his office. For, in order to put Nature to the very utmost shame, he not only gives laws that speak of natural and true sins, such as the Ten Commandments, but he makes sins of things that are in their nature, no sins, and forces and p erasers sins upon them in heaps. For unbelief and evil desire are, in their nature, sin, an worthy of death; but not to eat leavened bread on Easter, and to eat any unclean beast, to make no sign on the body, and all those things that the Levitical priesthood deals with as sin, — these things are not, in their nature, sinful or wicked, but they become sins because they are forbidden by the law. This law can be done away; but the Ten Commandments cannot be done away, for sin against the Ten Commandments would be sin, even though there were no commandments, or they were not known; just as the unbelief of the heathen is sin, even though they do-not know or think that it is sin.

Thus we see that these many laws of Moses were given not only to prevent anyone from choosing ways of his own to do good and live well, as has beet: said above, but rather that sins might become more, and be heaped up beyond measure, to burden the conscience so that hardened blindness might have to recognize itself and feel its own. inability and nothingness in respect of good, and thus be compelled and forced by the law to seek something beyond the law and its own ability, namely, God’s grace, promised in Christ, Who was to come. Every law of God is good and right, even if it only bids men carry dung or gather straw, and no man can be righteous or good of heart who does not keep this good law, or who keeps it unwillingly. But Nature cannot keep it otherwise than unwillingly; therefore, through God’s law, it must recognize and feel its wickedness, and it must sigh and long for the aid of divine grace in Christ.

Then, when Christ comes, the law ceases, especially the Levitical law, which, as has been said, makes sins of things that are not in their nature, sinful. The Ten-Commandments do not cease, in the sense that they are no longer to be kept or fulfilled, but Moses’ part in them ceases, and no longer strengthens sin by the Ten Commandments, and sin is no longer the sting of death. For through Christ sin is forgiven, God is reconciled, and man’s heart has begun to be inclined to the law. Moses can no longer rebuke it and make it sinful, because it has not kept the commandments and is guilty of death, as he did before grace came and before Christ was there.

St. Paul teaches this, in 2 Corinthians 3:7, when he says that the glory in the countenance of Moses ceases because of the glory in the countenance of Jesus Christ; that is, the work of Moses, which makes sinners of us and puts us to shame with the brightness of the knowledge of our wickedness and nothingness, no longer causes us pain and no longer terrifies us with death. For we now have the glory in the face of Christ, that is, the work of grace whereby we know Christ, by whose righteousness, life, and strength we fulfill the law and overcome death and hell. The three apostles saw Moses and Elias on Matthew Tabor, and yet were not frightened at them, because of the tender glory in the face of Christ; but in Exodus 34, where Christ was not present, the children of Israel could not endure the glory and brightness in Moses’ face, and he had to put a covering over it.

There are three kinds of pupils of the law. The first are those who hear the law and despise it, and lead an impious life, without fear. To these the law does not come. They are signified by the calf-worshipers in the wilderness, on whose account Moses broke the tables; he did not bring them the law.

The second are those who attempt to fulfill it by their own power, without grace. They are signified by the people who could not look on Moses’ countenance, when he brought the tables a second time. To these the law comes, but they endure it not; therefore they put a covering over it and lead a life of hypocrisy, with outward works of the law, though the law makes everything sin, if the covering is removed. For the law shows that our ability is nothing without Christ’s grace.

The third are those who see Moses clearly, without a covering. These are they who understand the meaning of the law and how it demands impossible things. Then sin comes into power, death is mighty, Goliath’s spear is like a weaver’s beam and its head weighs six hundred shekels of brass, and all the children of Israel flee before him, but David only. Christ, our Lord, saves us from all that; for if Christ’s glory did not come along with this glory of Moses, no one could bear the glory of the law, the terror of sin and death. These pupils fall away from all works and presumption and learn from the law nothing else except to recognize sin and to sigh for Christ; and this is the true work of Moses and the true purpose of the law.

So Moses himself has told us that his work and teaching should last until Christ, and then cease, when he says in Deuteronomy 18, “A prophet shall the Lord thy God raise up unto thee from among thy brethren, like unto me; him shalt thou. hear, etc.” This is the noblest saying in all of Moses; indeed it is the very pith of him; and the apostles appealed to it and made great use of it to strengthen the Gospel and abolish the law; all the prophets, too, drew heavily upon it. For since God here promises another Moses, whom they are to hear, it follows of necessity that he would teach something different from Moses; and Moses gives up his power to him, and yields to him, so that he may be heard. This prophet cannot, then, teach law, for Moses has done that to the uttermost, and for the law’s sake there would be no need to raise up another prophet. Therefore this word was certainly spoken concerning the teaching of grace and concerning Christ.

For this reason also, St. Paul calls the law of Moses “the Old Testament,” and Christ does the same when He institutes “the New Testament.’” Thus it is a testament, because in it God promises and bequeaths to the people of Israel the land of Canaan, if they keep it. He gave it to them, also, and it was confirmed by the death and blood of sheep and goats. But since this testament rested not upon God’s grace, but upon men’s works, it had to grow old and cease, and the promised land had to be lost again, because the law cannot be fulfilled by works. And another testament had to come, which would not grow old, and would not rest upon our deeds, but upon God’s words and works, so that it might last forever. Therefore it is confirmed by the death and blood of an eternal Person, and an everlasting land is promised and given.

Let this be enough about the books and work of Moses. ‘What, then, are the other books, the prophets and the histories? I answer: They are nothing else than what Moses is; for all of them do the work that Moses does, and guard “against the false prophets, that they may not lead the people to works, but allow them to stay in the work of Moses and the knowledge of sin. They hold fast to this purpose, in order to keep the people conscious of their own impotence through a right understanding of the law, and thus drive them to Christ, as Moses does. Therefore they enlarge upon what Moses says of Christ, and furnish two kinds of examples, — pies of those who understand Moses and those who do not understand him rightly, — together with examples of the punishments and rewards that come to both.

Thus the prophets are nothing else than administrators and witnesses of Moses and his work, to bring everyone to Christ through the law.

In conclusion, I ought also indicate the spiritual meaning presented to us by the Levitical law and the Mosaic priesthood. But there is too much of this to write; it needs space and time, and should be expounded with the living voice. For Moses is, indeed, a well of all wisdom and understanding, out of which has sprung all that the prophets knew and said. Moreover, even the New Testament flows out of it and is founded in it, as we have heard. Let it be my service to give a little hint to those who have the grace and understanding to search for it.

If, then, you would interpret well and surely, set Christ before you; for He is the man to whom it all applies. Make nothing else of the high priest Aaron than Christ alone, as is done by the Epistle to the Hebrews, which is almost enough, all by itself, to interpret all the figures of Moses. Likewise it is certain that Christ Himself is both the sacrifice and the altar, for He sacrificed Himself, with His own blood; as the same Epistle announces.

Now, as the Levitical high priest, by his sacrifice, took away only the artificial sins, which were in their nature no sins, so our high priest, Christ, by His own sacrifice and blood, has taken away the true sin, which is in its nature sin, and He has gone in once through the veil to God to make atonement for us. Thus you should apply to Christ personally and to no one else, all that is written about the high priest.

But the high priest’s sons, who are engaged in the daily sacrifice, you should interpret to mean ourselves, who, in the presence of our father Christ, sitting in heaven, live here on earth in the body, and have not passed through to Him except by faith, spiritually. Their office of slaughter and sacrifice signifies nothing else than the preaching of the Gospel, by which the old man is slain and offered to God, burned and consumed by the fire of love, in the Holy Ghost; and this sacrifice is a sweet savor to God, that is, it produces a conscience that is good, pure, and secure before God. This is the interpretation that St. Paul makes, in Romans 12:1, when he teaches that we are to offer our bodies to God, a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice; and this we do (as has been said) by the constant practice of the Gospel, by preaching it and believing it.

Let this suffice for the present as a brief suggestion for seeking Christ and the Gospel in the Old Testament. He that reads this Bible should know that I have been careful to put the Name of God that the Jews call Tetragrammaton in capital letters, and the other, which they call Adonai half in capitals; for among all the names of God, these two alone are applied in the Scriptures to the real, true God, while the others are often ascribed to the angels and saints. I have done this so that men can draw the strong conclusion that Christ is true God, since Jeremiah 23:6 calls HimLORD, saying, “They shall call HimLORD, our Righteousness.” The same thing is to be found in more passages.

Herewith, I commend all my readers to Christ, and ask that they will help me get from God the power to carry this work through to a profitable end, for I freely admit that I undertook too much, especially in trying to put the Old Testament into German. The Hebrew language, sad to say, has gone down so far that even the Jews know little enough about it, and their glosses and interpretations (which I have tested) are not to be trusted. I think that if the Bible is to come up again, we Christians are the ones who must do the work, for we have the understanding of Christ, without which the knowledge of the language is nothing. Because they were without it, the old interpreters, even Jerome, made mistakes in many passages.

Though I cannot claim that I have got everything, nevertheless, I venture to say that this German Bible is plainer and surer, at many points, than the Latin, and so it is true that if the printers do not, as usual, spoil it with their carelessness, the German language has here a better Bible than the Latin language. I call upon its readers to say whether this is so.

And now, of course, the mud will stick to the wheel, and there will be no one so stupid that he will not want to be my master in this work, and criticize me here and there. Let them go. From the beginning I have considered the fact that it would be easier to find ten thousand to criticize my work than one to do a twentieth of it after me. I, too, would like to be a great scholar and give brilliant proof of what I know by criticizing St. Jerome’s Latin Bible, but he also could defy me to do the work after him.

If there is anyone who is so far above me in scholarship, let him undertake to translate the whole Bible into German, and let him tell me, after that, what he can do. If he does better than I, why should he not be preferred to me. I thought I was a scholar, and I know that, by God’s grace, I am more learned than all the sophists in the universities; but now I see that I cannot handle even my own native German tongue. Nor have I read, up to this time, a book or letter which contained the real German language. No one thinks of speaking German rightly either, especially the people in the chancelleries and the miserable preachers and wretched writers who think they have the right to change the German tongue, and invent new words for us every day, — beherzigen, behandigen, erspriesslich, erschiesslich , and the like. Yes, my dear man, there are also bethoren f424 and ernarren . f425 In a word, if we were, all of us, to work together, we would have plenty to do in bringing the Bible to light, one with his knowledge, another with his language. Even as it is, I have not worked at this alone, but have used the services of anyone whom I could get. Therefore I ask everyone to desist from abuse and leave the poor people undisturbed, and help me, if he can. If he will not do that, let him take up the Bible himself and make one of his own. Those who only abuse and worry others, are certainly not so godly and honest that they would care to have a pure Bible, since they know that they cannot produce it; but they would like to be clever masters of another’s science, though in their own science they have never been even pupils.

May God complete the work that He has begun. Amen.

Categories: Luther
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